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Evenk: Russia: Amur - Yakutia

Photo by A. Lavrillier, 2013.

This observatory is situated in one of the biggest Evenk nomadic area of Russia with a surface of 7 000 km2 and around 15 000 reindeer lead by 250 reindeer units. This is an important concentration of reindeer and human for this kind of reindeer herding – with small herds (40-100 reindeer per unit) and with hunting as additional subsistence economy. Nowadays, the reindeer are owned by three kinds of economic units: enterprises that appeared after the collapse of soviet power, transforming former kolkhoz, family cooperatives (indigenous mini-companies, recognized by the Russian government) and by private herders (without any administrative form nor official recognition).

This transdisciplinary observatory is among the Evenks of the regional frontier zone between southern Yakutia (Sakha Republic) and Northern Amur region. While these Evenks belong to the same families and herd in this area for centuries, they are from 1935 administratively divided into two regions, and indeed face administrative complications regarding their land rights.

In this kind of reindeer herding, while the main subsistence comes from food and fur hunting, reindeer herding provides transportation and milking, as well as a reserve of meet in case of food shortage. That implies a double dependence on the natural environment.

These Evenks inhabit small mountain natural forest (larch, pine, fir, birch, cedar) often with a rich under-storey vegetation of lichens, mosses and berry bushes. The continental climate has a high amplitude (> -50°C / + 30°C). Parts of the terrain are deeply cut by fast-flowing rivers and streams, while some of the wider valleys include extensive bogs and meadows, which provide ideal reindeer summer pastures.

Scheduling these subsistence activities over the landscape can only be achieved through high mobility (1500-2000 km per yearly), for meeting the requirements of both herding and hunting. Such an ability of moving and sustainably managing the environment, despite variability, is allowed by the profound indigenous knowledge and cognition of the environment and micro-climates.

The BRISK project corresponds to a demand from the community for better understanding if/how the changes in climate and in the environment become a threat, not only for the environment and traditional economics, but also for the societies and their cultures.

Reindeer herders face for many years the impacts of climate change, in addition to global changes caused by regional, national and international policies, the development of extractive industries, forestry and mega energy constructions (dams, roads and railways). While these Evenks are in contact with extractive industries (gold and coal mines) since the end of the 19th century, the recent developments demonstrate an important growth of industrial projects, directly on their nomadic areas or close to.

The Evenks have been noticing climate and environmental changes for decades, such as a rise in winter and summer temperatures, high weather variability and unexpected temperature jumps, as well as an increase of summer precipitation, but these changes have been increasing more rapidly over the last 5/10 years. The coldest part of winter is now two months shorter than it was 30 years ago, and therefore the snow period is getting much shorter. A single word sums up the main trend of weather change in narratives: okollen (in Evenk) – ‘it’s getting hotter’. They link the warming with an increase in forest fires and changes in flora and wild fauna (extinction or appearance of some species).

The Evenk observatory’s methodologies were designed collectively by the herders, climatologists, anthropologists and ethnobiologists. It was established in winter 2013 by S. Gabyshev, L. Egorova (Evenks) and A. Lavrillier. It provides daily observation according to criteria of both Indigenous and Scientific knowledge (from social and environmental sciences). In addition, Gabyshev and Lavrillier (with other herders) develop co-production products of knowledge concerning Indigenous Environmental Knowledge, environmental changes, land uses’ mapping, adaptive practices and socio-economical impacts of global changes.

By A. Lavrillier

Responsible researchers in France

Alexandra Lavrillier

Co-researchers

Gabyshev Semen - reindeer herder and hunter

Egorova Ljudmila – weather forecaster in retirement, from reindeer herders’ family

Partners

Private reindeer herders (Amur-Yakutia region & Kamchatka);

Abramova G. - Council of Amur region reindeer herding cooperatives;

Esina N. V. & Byljeva O. B. - Weather Station of Tynda (Amur region)

Involved students/school students: School “Arktika” (Nerungri, Russie)

General information about the observatory:

Date of start and / or missions: January 2013 (daily observation since ever and collective missions: Winter and Summer 2013, 2014, 2015)

Working language(s): Evenk, Russian
Collaboration with other projects: coming soon